World AIDS Day
It’s safe to say that no Christian community I've been a part of has ever brought up the U.S. domestic crisis of HIV/AIDS. In fact, I can’t recall ever hearing an American Christian even utter the words.
And in conversation with others, I know that too many have only heard about it from pastors who preach that homosexuality is an unforgiveable sin and that HIV/AIDS is God’s wrath at work — despite the fact that HIV/AIDS affects people of many ethnicities and sexual orientations, and that the infection is often transmitted in ways other than sexual intercourse. Hearing Christians speak seriously and nonjudgmentally about HIV/AIDS, with the intent of acting to help eradicate the illness and protect the lives of those whom the illness has affected, is too rare.
During the past 30 years, the AIDS pandemic has provided an unfortunate opportunity to follow God’s call to care for the widow and orphan. Husbands succumb to illness, leaving behind wives and children who also carry the disease. Mothers die, leaving behind children without care, and too often is the case that those children — who could have avoided in utero transmission of HIV with proper medical care — also die. Entire families are lost.
This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day. This day is not simply about wearing a red ribbon to show solidarity in the fight against AIDS. Instead, it is an opportunity to address the tough issues presented by HIV, such as how those disproportionately affected by the disease mirror society’s most marginalized populations — the poor and women — and how faith-based communities can best serve those populations.
On my desk, next to my laptop, is a can of seltzer water. My grapefruit-flavored, bubbly water sits about four inches away from my left hand as I write. When the can is empty, I might take another from the fridge or fill up a water bottle at the kitchen sink.
Water drives my day, but I rarely think about it. I cook pasta in it. I heat water to make tea. I fill a bucket to mop the floor and a draw a bath with hot water and soak in it. At the moment, my dishwasher is growling away, and I’m waiting to hear the pleasant beep that alerts me that the clothes in the washer downstairs are clean.
I’ve never considered water a women’s issue. Not until this past week, that is. On Friday, the day before World AIDS Day 2012, I had the privilege of attending World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World luncheon in New York City. Strong Women, Strong World is a new initiative “supporting sustainable change in some of the difficult places in the world to be a girl or a woman.” The focus of the day was water.
The Honorable Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador at-large for Global Women’s Issues, spoke at the event. She celebrated the progress humanitarian organizations such as World Vision have made in the effort to eradicate HIV/AIDS, but reminded us that the number of people living with HIV is at an all-time high. In 2010, HIV/AIDS killed 1.8 million people. Sixty percent of those living with HIV are girls and women, and AIDS is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age (15-44 years old) globally.
“HIV,” Ambassador Verveer said, “has the face of a woman.”
Sojourners President and CEO Jim Wallis joined voices worldwide rallying in the fight against AIDS. The ONE Campaign — an international nonprofit focused on global health and poverty issues — today launched its "It Starts With Me" video campaign.
As people of faith, it is not uncommon to pray for miracles when faced with overwhelming obstacles. For many of us, AIDS has been one of those mind-boggling, heart-wrenching causes that has wreaked havoc on the world and been the subject of many prayers.
Since the early days of the disease, the focus has been on a cure. Researchers worked tirelessly for it and the faithful asked God to provide it. But the cure has never come.
And yet, as we mark another AIDS Day this Saturday, Dec. 1, there is evidence of the miraculous.
After 24 years of commemorating this day with grim statistics and little hope, there is finally good news.
Millions of people are receiving treatment. Many fewer people are dying.
The new infection rate has dropped by 50 percent or more in 25 countries since 2001. With access to treatment, being HIV-positive is now considered a chronic disease, not a fatal one.
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The news is hopeful. We have seen both progress and proof:
- New data shows that an HIV-positive person on treatment is 96 percent less likely to pass HIV on to others.
- It only costs, on average, $335 for AIDS treatment through PEPFAR (down nearly 70 percent since 2004!).
- 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced new HIV infections by 25 percent.
- Clinical trials show that voluntary male circumcision reduces the risk of new HIV infection in men by roughly 60 percent.
Yesterday was truly a momentous occasion. Looking at all the progress we have made, especially in the last 10 years, it is a moment for us to not only celebrate, but in the words of President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, “recommit ourselves,” to end the fight against AIDS totally.
Today marks the anniversary of World AIDS Day. The USAID estimates that since the epidemic began, over 60 million people have been infected with the disease, and over 25 million lives taken.
One of the most prominant figures fronting the fight against AIDS is U2 frontman, Bono. In 2002, Bono became vocal about the epidemic, embarking on a tour across the American Midwest to recruit churches to join the fight against AIDS in Africa. In Christianity Today’s 2003 feature “Bono’s American Prayer,” (written by Sojo’s own Cathleen Falsani) he articulates the crucial role the church must play in combating the epidemic.
"If the church doesn't respond to this, the church will be made irrelevant. It will look like the way you heard stories about people watching Jews being put on the trains. We will be that generation that watched our African brothers and sisters being put on trains."
By 2015, we could have an AIDS free generation.
AIDS was first identified nearly 30 years ago and has claimed countless lives. Currently, 1,000 babies around the globe are born with the virus each day. During much of the past few decades it’s been hard to see much hope when it comes to turning the tide against this disease.
But, thanks to smart public health decisions, public investment in strategies that work, and innovative implementation by NGO’s, we can now begin to envision a day when this mountain will be moved. During FY 2011 PEPFAR, (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief) supported the prevention of 200,000 children contracting HIV/AIDS from their mother.
With continued investment we are just a few years away from preventing nearly ALL children from being born with the virus.
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ONE and (RED) have started a community art project of sorts, known as the (2015)QUILT. Driven by the goal to have an HIV/AIDS free generation by 2015, ONE and (RED) are focusing on the 1,000 babies born every day to mothers who have HIV/AIDS. The crux is this: get the 1.4 million pregnant women who are HIV positive on meds that cost $0.40 a day (you read that correctly), 98 percent of their babies won’t have HIV/AIDS transferred to them, and soon enough, we have a healthy generation. How easy does that sound?
If we look at what is happening this week – elections in Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo, an aid effectiveness conference in South Korea, the continuing Arab Spring in Syria and beyond, World Aids Day Thursday – and in the coming weeks -- the U.N. climate change conference, COP17 -- we cannot pretend that these events have no impact on our lives here and now.
Every one of these events is a matter of justice. The citizens of Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo deserve the opportunity to express freely, without fear of intimidation or violence, how they believe their country should be governed. Having spent some time in the region, I believe that the people of the DRC deserve more than any other to live in a country where they are safe and secure.
How we assist other countries in their development is an issue of justice.